lunedì 4 febbraio 2013

Agglassato: beef roast of the Sicilian nobility

(Cliccate qua per l'originale ricetta italiana di Peppe Sidoti.)

It is my pleasure to present an English translation of a wonderful recipe for agglassato, a grand meal from the kitchens of the Sicilian nobility.  The recipe is by Peppe Sidoti, whose blog, Cibi di Casa (, is one of the finest blogs of its type.  A Sicilian living in Florence, Peppe is a great resource for the ancient culinary traditions of our impoverished Southern Italian ancestors — ancestors whose simple food has never been surpassed in taste.

First, before I turn you over to Peppe, an explanation of the different types of cattle. In Italy and other countries famous for their cheese, the female cattle are generally not eaten.  Therefore, the following refer only to male cattle:
  • vitello — calf — younger than 1 year old
  • vitellone —young bull (intact)— between 1 and 4 years old
  • manzo — steer (castrated) — between 1 and 4 years old
  • toro — bull (intact) — more than 4 years old
  • bue (bove) — ox (castrated) — more than 4 years old
Note that a vitellone is not a young steer (as it is erroneously translated in some dictionaries).  A steer or manzo is castrated; a vitellone is an intact male bovine.  Note that castrated males produce more fat.  Therefore, the meat of the vitellone would be less fatty (and, to one way of thinking, less tasty) than that of the manzo.  However, for a stew or a dish that is cooked for a long time, like agglassato, a slightly tougher meat is appropriate.

I now turn you over to Peppe:

(Cibi di Casa,

Agglassato is a dish, like other typical Sicilian dishes, in which the meat or fish is cooked in the same sauce that is also used for the pasta.  To call it a piatto unico (one-course meal) is inaccurate, because first you serve the pasta, and then, as as second course, you serve the meat in the same sauce (usually with the potatoes). It is not a difficult recipe, but it is a long, slow cooking that you have to keep an eye on.  The tastiness of the result depends on the quality of the ingredients, above all the onions and the meat. This was a dish of the Monsù, the chefs of the great, noble Sicilian families, whose cooking had strong French influences. [Translator's note: The word monsù was our Sicilian ancestors' corruption of monsieur.]
a haunch of vitellone (beef)
1 or 2 kg (2.2-4.4 lb) very sweet onions, coarsely chopped
good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
dry marsala [Translator's note: absolutely positively do NOT use American marsala! Use only an authentic marsala from Marsala, such as Lombardo, Florio, or Pellegrino.]
black pepper, coarsely ground


Use a cut of meat that is appropriate for long cooking; you can use an anterior or posterior section according to taste and to what is available (haunch, shoulder, rump). Tie it as you would a roast, and brown it in very little oil, until the outside is nicely browned.  Fry the potatoes in large pieces, until nicely browned. Slice and chop all of the onions, which must be sweet onions, like cipolle di Tropea [a Southern Italian red onion].

Choose a good, deep pan, ideally terracotta or a Dutch oven, add good oil, and brown the coarsely chopped onions.  Add the browned meat and pour in a good-size glass of dry marsala.  After it begins to boil, add boiling stock. Add salt and coarsely ground black pepper and cover. [Place in the oven, at a relatively low temperature.]

After about a half hour, add the potatoes, and more liquid if necessary.

At this point the miracle happens: slowly the onions become a golden sauce with which the potatoes and meat mingle, creating a unique aroma and taste. It shouldn't stick to the bottom of the pan, but it shouldn't be too liquidy, either.

When the meat is tender and the potatoes are soft but not mushy, you can add the sauce to a short pasta that takes the sauce well.  Then slice the meat.
This cooking method lends itself very well to other meats such as lamb, kid, veal, pork, chicken, turkey, etc.  Simply monitor the cooking time accordingly. 

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